Not because it was easy, but because it was hard
December 17, 2012 12:03 AM   Subscribe

Apollo 40 years on: how the moon missions changed the world for ever
posted by Artw (28 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Pale Blue Dot

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi
posted by Blasdelb at 12:38 AM on December 17, 2012


"Hundreds of people in the Middle East killing each other over some imaginary line that you're not even aware of, that you can't see"

You may have been to the moon, but that's still unpardonable guff.
posted by Segundus at 1:11 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Schmitt had seen his home planet upside down, with the continent of Antarctica sprawling over the top

Oh what oh no dude you are going to get so flamed.
posted by 7segment at 1:31 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


the generation that followed them took this philosophy and ran with it, harnessing the new Apollo-driven technologies of micro-electronics to wire up the modern world ...

I'd argue that they were more inspired by Hendrix, Pong, Moog and $25 6502s than by Apollo. Other inventors and affordable tech much more than the bottomless pockets of the M-I complex. Not to ignore The Whole Earth Catalog.

and reinvent society

There's more of grave than of gravy in that bit of undigested gush.
posted by Twang at 2:58 AM on December 17, 2012


Damnit. I had stuff to do tonight.
posted by Mezentian at 3:26 AM on December 17, 2012


In another year or so I'll get to explain to my son that when his granddad was a little boy, men were flying to the moon. How backwards is that?
posted by Brodiggitty at 3:47 AM on December 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Schmitt had seen his home planet upside down, with the continent of Antarctica sprawling over the top

The photo in the story appears to be upside down, hence the comment about Antarctica appearing on top. I say appears because I'm not completely sure that original photo wasn't taken that way, though I've never heard that it was, despite reading a lot about the Apollo mission. Whatever the truth, it's a small detail in a larger story.

Apollo was astonishing in its achievements. When Kennedy ignited the challenge in 1961, we weren't sure we could land on the Moon by the end of the decade. We definitely didn't know how it could be done. America hadn't put a single man into orbit yet, but we were declaring would do that and so many other things. Eight years later we astonished ourselves, the world and renowned scientist Carl Sagan.

Sagan's most profound and accurate thoughts on Apollo are what he said about The Gift of Apollo. Yes, it was a technical triumph, but it was also a spiritual and emotional one. A maturing of our species that enabled us to to get a good look at our home and ourselves.

For me personally, one of the most startling facts is that Apollo occurred while American society went through massive upheavals. Race, gender and class issues exploded across the nation, there were riots and killings and confrontations. Yet a government agency, NASA, had been been given a mission to accomplish by a certain date and most importantly, the authority and funds to do so. And they did it, not once but twice, with Apollo 12 occurring in November of 1969. Even at our worst, part of humanity was still displaying our best.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:50 AM on December 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'd argue that they were more inspired by Hendrix, Pong, Moog and $25 6502s than by Apollo.

And would there have been $25 6502s without the research conducted to further the Apollo program?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:12 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you haven't read it, the official Apollo 13 Review Board Report is an absolutely fascinating piece of history.
posted by odinsdream at 4:56 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"for ever"? Isn't it always "forever"?
posted by candasartan at 5:08 AM on December 17, 2012


Forever for ever!
posted by fairmettle at 5:18 AM on December 17, 2012


Oh hey, the Blue Marble photo was originally taken upside down.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:37 AM on December 17, 2012


Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it. You Maniacs! You turned it upside down! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:46 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always felt bad for Michael Collins.
posted by snottydick at 6:49 AM on December 17, 2012


Overview
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:15 AM on December 17, 2012


Yes, it was a technical triumph, but it was also a spiritual and emotional one ... For me personally, one of the most startling facts is that Apollo occurred while American society went through massive upheavals.

I'm unconvinced. I don't think engineering is morality, it's organisation and wealth and science. If things had gone a little differently in the 1940s then the Apollo might have been called the Wotan and planted a swastika up there. Same rocket scientists, after all.
In his 20s and early 30s, von Braun was the central figure in Germany's rocket development program, responsible for the design and realization of the V-2 combat rocket during World War II. After the war, he and some select members of his rocket team were taken to the United States as part of the then-secret Operation Paperclip ... he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. According to one NASA source, he is "without doubt, the greatest rocket scientist in history". His crowning achievement was to lead the development of the Saturn V booster rocket that helped land the first men on the Moon in July 1969.
- Wernher von Braun on Wikipedia


We've had a comfortable two centuries in which Western Civilisation has been both the richest and most technically-advanced culture AS WELL as the most morally enlightened (stop coughing at the back, you!). This will (probably) end. It would be well to stop conflating the two things before this happens, or we might be fooled into thinking that Chinese space rockets meant that electing our leaders and enjoying free speech was a silly old-fashioned idea.

Apollo was awesome though. Those buckets of bolts! No wonder we thought Mars would be crawling with colonists by now.
posted by alasdair at 7:23 AM on December 17, 2012


I've always felt bad for Michael Collins.

Don't. It was decided that he would be CMP, which had enormous responsibility, because he was rated as better pilot than Aldrin. He did not feel alone or slighted by his position:
In his autobiography "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys," Collins wrote about that isolation with surprising enthusiasm:

"I feel this powerfully -- not as fear or loneliness -- but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation. I like the feeling. Outside my window I can see stars -- and that is all. Where I know the moon to be, there is simply a black void, the moon's presence is defined solely by the absence of stars."
When he was training for Apollo 11, he was offered by Deke Slayton, head of the astronaut office and the guy who picked the lunar mission crews, the chance to get "right back into the rotation", which would have placed him as commander of Apollo 17.

He declined, citing the stress that astronaut training was putting on his family and in particular his wife. They're still married.

I'm unconvinced

Of what, specifically?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:28 AM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's disturbing about the Apollo program is that they skipped Apollo 2 and Apollo 3. Really. They went from Apollo 1 to Apollo 4.

You'd think those guys at NASA would be better at counting, right?
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:01 AM on December 17, 2012


I've always felt bad for Michael Collins.

I'm pretty sure he's the answer to a Trivia Pursuit question, which is something.

What's disturbing about the Apollo program is that they skipped Apollo 2 and Apollo 3. Really. They went from Apollo 1 to Apollo 4.

I think, logically, Apollo 1 should have been Apollo 3, with 1 and 2 being unmanned. But because they didn't name them Apollo X until after the Apollo 1 disaster, Apollo 1 got to be Apollo 1.
posted by hoyland at 8:12 AM on December 17, 2012


And what better way to celebrate 40 years than by crashing stuff into the moon.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:13 AM on December 17, 2012


Consulting Wikipedia, Apollo 1 had the fourth number in sequence. I don't know why they went 1, 4, etc and not 1, 5 etc.
posted by hoyland at 8:14 AM on December 17, 2012


Would just say - if you can go to Cape Canaveral, then go. I was on a business trip to Cocoa Beach a couple of years ago (a tale in itself - the denizens of the beach bars are a novel waiting to be written) and got the chance to take an afternoon off to visit.

It was one overwhelming emotional moment after another. Standing underneath the Saturn V suspended in the main hall. Out on the launch pads. The mission control launch simulation. The VAB. I still haven't fully assimilated the experience: the closest gloss I can get is similar to the feeling I got when I was standing in a sacred landscape in Orkney and realised for the first time how huge it was in space and time - and that it had been created by people in search of the unknown.

Just go, dammit.
posted by Devonian at 8:20 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite NASA moment of all time - wait, hear me out, because this won't seem right - was the Challenger disaster. It was a terrible thing, I know, but what I liked about it was the way the launch director handled it. Watch this. About 1:50 into this launch sequence.

God, I can never forget that. I cry every time I see it. And the launch director says "obviously a major malfunction."

Damn. Space exploration is hard. Accidents happen. Cycle reset to T minus 400 and continue...

I was talking with a friend who works at NASA, and I brought this up, and I suggested that "oh, shit" would have been a better thing to say than "obviously a major malfunction". She agreed, but that's the way things work.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:41 AM on December 17, 2012


A guy at Wikipedia figured out that NASA's published distance for the 1972 photo is way off. NASA gives it at 28,000 miles from Earth, but it was almost certainly closer to 18,000 miles. Confusion with metric conversion might be to blame (28,000 kilometers = 17,400 miles). He managed to get one NASA website to change a caption for the photo, but so far NASA as a whole hasn't corrected the figure. (Disclaimer: I was involved in that discussion as User:Cam.)
posted by gubo at 10:46 AM on December 17, 2012


In his 20s and early 30s, von Braun was the central figure in Germany's rocket development program, responsible for the design and realization of the V-2 combat rocket during World War II...

Nazi schmazi.
posted by naoko at 2:12 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Confusion with metric conversion might be to blame (28,000 kilometers = 17,400 miles

Again?
Man, do I need to school NASA?

It's not that hard.
posted by Mezentian at 5:50 PM on December 17, 2012


Regardless of what happened on Earth, Apollo did not change the moon forever. No astronauts built homes there. Nothing came after Apollo, that's the problem.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:49 PM on December 17, 2012


The near future of manned spaceflight
posted by Artw at 10:27 PM on December 18, 2012


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